Monday, February 23, 2015

Comic Shop Comics: February 19

Batgirl #39 (DC Comics) That's a hell of a cover on this issue, in which our heroine finds herself targeted by pretty much all of Burnside, thanks to a $20 million reward for her capture that is posted on the social media app Hooq. Meanwhile, everything seems to be falling apart for Barbara Gordon and Batgirl, but hey, at least things seem to be coming to a head. I was a little unclear about that ending, in which the "other" Barbara Gordon/Batgirl is finally revealed (maybe?), but the revelation seems a little more silly sci-fi than I would have expected in a Batman-related comic, particularly one that's been as grounded as this one has been since the new creative team took over.

I did kind of love page 17, though—just the way the last panel deflates the preceding panels; that was probably my favorite page of the week. The "staff meeting" gag was kinda cute too, but Teen Titans Go! got there first.

Batman Eternal #46 (DC) This issue, featuring the lovely portrait-style cover of Ra's al Ghul by Jae Lee, is essentially just an issue-length elimination of Ra's from the list of possible suspects. While Ra's seemed like the most obvious candidate from the get-go (given the title and first page of the story, plus his wealth, power and knowledge of Batman's secret identity), this issue makes it fairly clear that it was not, in fact, Ra's, behind all of Batman's current woes. Ra's, like the other, earlier suspects, says he too got the same invitation that all of the other arch-villains did, but he says he burned it immediately. (This week I'm leaning toward either The Lion, Julia Pennyworth or Hush as the villain behind all the other villains, even if I can't think of a good motive for any of them; they're just the only characters who have been around too terribly long and are still around, even if Hush seems to have been eliminated).

This issue is scripted by Tim Seeley and drawn by three different artists with two different coloristss (and, sad to say, it looks like it; it's all downhill after the cover). Batman confronts Ra's, but first has to face Dr. Darrk (who I had to Google; is this his first New 52 appearance?) and Lord Death Man. Oh, and a bunch of ninjas, of course. During this encounter, Ra's asks Batman, "Is Batman eternal?" and our hero is confronted by hallucinations of various potential future Batmen, including Kingdom Come Batman, Batman Beyond, Damian's coat-rocking Batman and even Paul Pope's Batman from Batman: Year 100.

It's too bad about the art, as that could have been a pretty awesome scene, and the Poison Ivy scenes book-ending the issue didn't read quite right to me; I wasn't entirely sure what I was looking at in the very last panel.

Lumberjanes #11 (Boom Studios) This issue continues the story arc by co-writers Noelle Stevenson and Shannon Watters and drawn by Carolyn Nowak, in which Molly and Mal are trapped in a lost world full of dinosaurs with the mysterious bear witch, while the remaining girls try to earn easy merit badges. No matter how easy the badges might seem, however, they seem to have trouble earning least, all save Ripley. And Bubbles, the raccoon that was pretending to be Molly's coonskin cap for, like, the first seven issues of the series. (Man, raccoons are all the rage in comics these days, huh?).

The bear witch (not to be confused with a bearwich) reveals to Mal and Molly why she went to the lost world in the first place, and that they will have to help her reach the object of her quest in order to get back to the real world. This involves what appears to be a scene from a Super Mario Bros-like video game—hell, they've even got to avoid being bitten by barely disguised Piranha Plants.

I'm still adjusting to Nowak's art style and take on the particular character designs, but the last two issues have been fun, perhaps in large part because they serve as a pretty clean break from the epic-length adventure that tied the first eight issues or so into a single story.

The Multiversity: Mastermen #1 (DC) Writer Grant Morrison is joined by pencil artist Jim Lee, reuniting the creative team that was, once upon a time, going to rejuvenate Wildcats for DC's WildStorm imprint, an effort that lasted all of one issue (Also in attendance? Four different inkers—Scott Williams, Sandra Hope, Mark Irwin and Jonathan Glapion—and two different colorists; gee, I wonder if there was any kind of deadline crunch on this particular issue?).

For this latest chapter in Morrison's grand epic exploring the particular vision of the DC Multiverse he conceived of by synthesizing pretty much the entire publishing history of DC Comics and all of the other publishers it gobbled up over the years, the setting is Earth-10, which was Earth-X in the pre-Crisis cosmology (X being the roman numeral for 10, you see; that Morrison, he's always thinking!). That is, of course, the Earth where the Nazis won World War II (originally, it was to be called Earth-[swastika], but DC decided to chop off the arms of the swastika to make it Earth-X), and the world in which all of the superheroes DC acquired from Quality Comics resided.

These are the characters who starred in the pre-implosion series Freedom Fighters, and who Morrison kinda sorta already had a chance to revamp and revise around the time of Infinite Crisis and 52, although he turned his designs and notes over to writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Grey and various bad artists for the resulting Freedom Fighters series, which were all terrible.

That might explain why Morrison chooses not to focus on Uncle Sam and the other Freedom Fighters in this book (that he's already offered up his particular vision of those characters once), or perhaps his fascination with Superman lead to his focusing on that particular character on this new Earth-10.

See, Superman is the reason the Nazis won World War II on this Earth-10, as his Kryptonian rocket-cradle landed in Nazi-occupied territory in 1939, and Hitler and his inner circle raised young Kal-El to grow up to be Overman. Together with other, similarly Nazi-fied versions of Justice Leaguers—Leatherwing, Lightning, etc—Overman helped conquer the world and establish Germarica.

Because Superman is so good though, that there's an essential element of goodness in him that nature cannot wean out, so even this evil Superman, who was raised by Hitler and fought with the Nazis to conquer the free world, is plagued by guilt over all of the wicked deeds he's done, and now doubts the virtue of what has been his life's work.

It's a refreshing twist on the Superman Goes Bad story, which DC has been telling different versions of something like three times a month for about as long as I can remember. Morrison's version of a Superman Gone Bad is still Superman, and can therefore only go so bad, can only be pulled so far over to the dark side, before his inherent virtue snaps him back toward where he was always meant to be.

Most of the issue is set in 2016, but it begins with a sequence in which the Nazis discover infant Kal-El in 1939, then jumps forward 17 years to the point at which Superman leads the German army into a crushed and conquered Washington, D.C., and then jumps forward 60 more years to the present/near-future.

As for the Freedom Fighters, Uncle Sam seems to have been around at least since World War II, but the others were given superpowers by a Nazi, Earth-10 version of a character we've already seen in more than one issue of Multiversity; here they are "Jews, Jehovah's Vitnesses, Romani, Negroes...zur usual suspects." There's Dollman and Dollwoman, The Human Bomb, Phantom Lady, Black Condoer and The Ray (Black Condor is a black guy, because of course he is, whereas the Dolls are Witnesses, and so won't directly fight in the war; as to whose Jewish and whose Romani, I guess it doesn't really matter).

As for the costume designs of The Freedom Fighters, The Ray and Human Bomb are almost identical to Jim Lee versions of their original conceptions (although they have triangle motifs worked into their costumes, as do all of the Freedom Fighters). The Dolls costumes look pretty similar to their originals as well, although Dollman now sports a beard. Phantom Lady and Black Condor look different enough to be unrecognizable, however, were it not for their color schemes and the fact that they're standing on a splash page in which they are called "Zur Freedom Fighters!"

Unlike some of the previous issues, this one lacked much of an ending...or, rather, its ending doesn't seem as final, and leaves so many questions unanswered that one may wish to read more about this Earth, moreso for plot reasons than just to find out whether Uncle Same and The Freedom Fighters can ultimately triumph over The New Reichsman or not.

I'm guessing not, but maybe if they can team up with the Justice League of another world or something...

New 52: Futures End #42 (DC) In last week's issue, Ray Palmer was quite clearly killed while trying to sword-fight Brainiac's big skull ship in outer space. Here you can see either Jesus Merino and Dan Green or Andy MacDonald's depiction of Palmer's death:
Note all of the flesh being zapped off of his skeleton in the time it takes him to say "AARRGH!"

In this week's issue, featuring Palmer (I'm not sure if they've ever referred to him as The Atom) loooking like he's getting ready to wrestle the Multiverse that Brainia is projectile-vomiting at him, it turns out that Palmer isn't dead after all!

"It was the only way to get past The Engineer's defenses," Palmer thought-clouds to himself, "to shrink down to subatomic size and let her think I was no longer a threat..."

Yeah, well where'd you get the skeleton from, smart guy?

The perils of a weekly series and a lax editing, I suppose. Anyway, this issue continues the climactic battle involving many of the plotlines, with things getting so big so fast I'm beginning to wonder how much of the last 200 pages or so of the book will be devoted to Convergence and/or whatever comes after Convergence.

In space, "The Justice League" (Cyborg, Equinox and some Legionnaires) get slapped around by Brainiac's tentacles; inside the ship Palmer swims through hexagram-shaped cells containing scenes from throughout DC's publishing history (Look, there's Tommy Monaghan on page 14!) to rescue The Engineer; Batman Terry McGinnis and the Alfred operating system take out the Batman/Joker/Brother Eye Murder-borg Terminator; Batman Bruce Wayne punches out Mr. Terrific; and the combined efforts of the heroes, including Superman and Shazam, thwart Brainiac's attempts to collect Metropolis.

Is the day saved? No. Remember, there's still 10 more issues of this to go. Brother Eye comes online in the present in the last panel, so there's still a big, scary threat to deal with, in addition to tying up loose ends and converging with Earth 2: World's End and Convergence.

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #7 (DC) Shane Davis' is one of the better covers this series has seen, depicting Wonder Woman shortly after triumphing over a minotaur, at least partly by using her magic lasso. Something still about it, though, as if it were a bigger image that was cropped in a strange way. It's be nice to see a little more of the monster and the ground he is apparently lying on or embedded in. The image is a pretty claustrophobic one as is, but Davis gives the monster a funny expression, and it's nice to see Wonder Woman looking poised and confident rather than in a berserker rage or something.

The inside of this issue has two stories, both of which ain't bad, and one of which is actually pretty good. The better of the two is the first one, written by Alex De Campi and drawn by Neil Googe (with three different colorists, for some reason).

The plot of this 20-pager involves a jerk of a scientist taking a team of specialists to Venus in order to set-up the first off-world colony (Why Venus and not Mars? Because the latter is too obvious a choice), and he made a "sizable donation" to the Justice League Foundation in order to get a Justice Leaguer escort. This being Sensation, he gets Wonder Woman, despite making his preference for Superman known repeatedly.

Things obviously go quite wrong, and there are giant space monsters to fight, but the real fun in De Campi's script is the breezy conversation between Wonder Woman and Robyn, the only woman on the crew, and the way De Campi's Wonder Woman is at once an everywoman and a superhero, switching from casual and relatable to take-charge ultra-competence in the space of a panel or two, depending on the circumstances.

I liked Googe's art throughout, including a pair of unusual Wonder Woman costumes (like the more modest attire she wears when saving lives in a Mulsim country, and her space suit costume), and De Campi even works in a message about how and how not to convince others that is so organic to this particular story it doesn't even feel like a message, even if it reads like one.

The second story, written by Amy Chu and drawn by Bernard Chang, is a ten-pager that still feels too-long. It's a Wonder Woman story, but one in which the character appears as a symbol and, truth be told, this could just as easily have been a Superman or Captain America story as a Wonder Woman one, which speaks to how generic it is.

It's about a soldier in combat who is rescued by Wonder Woman, although she's the only one who actually saw Wonder Woman, and it's not entirely clear if Wonder Woman was really there or if she was a concussion-induced hallucination (Given that Wondy's dialogue appears in these strangely colored blue dialogue bubbles drawn in a shakier line than all the others, and that the soldiers have access to Wonder Woman comics, I'm going with hallucination).

It's a decent story executed well enough, there's just nothing particularly interesting, nor particularly Wonder Woman, about it.

She-Hulk #12 (Marvel Entertainment) This is the final issue of the current volume of She-Hulk, which has been a pretty good run by Charles Soule and Javier Pulido. I wrote a bit about it, and this run in general, at Robot 6 last week, if you'd like to go read that piece.

This was the last Marvel comic I was still reading serially—that is, buying as each new issue was released, rather than waiting for the trade collections—so, for the first time this century, I'm down to having zero Marvel comics on my pull-list. Oddly enough, this series, like the last Marvel comic I was reading before it too was canceled (That would be The Superior Foes of Spider-Man), ended with minor Spider-Man villain The Shocker playing a rather important role in the climax.

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